Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi receiving a measles vaccine to support the Mass Vaccination Drive
Enlarge / Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi receiving a measles vaccine to support the Mass Vaccination Drive

People who have not been vaccinated against the measles virus must mark their homes with red flags, Samoan officials announced Tuesday.

The decree comes amid a devastating outbreak of measles, which was declared in October. As of December 3, officials have recorded 4,052 cases, 171 of which were recorded within the 24 hours before the tally. Officials also reported 60 deaths, 52 of which were in children aged 0 to 4 years old.

The outbreak has flourished after the vaccination rate of infants plunged to an estimated 31 percent last year. Health officials linked the drop in vaccination to the tragic deaths of two infants, who were given measles vaccines tainted with fatal doses of muscle relaxant. Two nurses were convicted in the cases and sentenced to five years in prison. Despite the convictions, anti-vaccine advocates have used the cases to drum up fear of vaccines.

As the outbreak took off last month, the Samoan government declared a state of emergency and has closed schools, banned children from public gatherings, and begun a mass vaccination campaign. It has since vaccinated over 58,000 people.

Earlier this week, Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi announced that the government would shut down entirely Thursday, December 5, and Friday, December 6, to help public servants carry out the door-to-door vaccination campaign.

But as the case and death counts continued to climb, officials took an extra measure to mark the homes of the unvaccinated.

“The public is hereby advised to tie a red cloth or red flag in front of their houses and near the road to indicate that family members have not been vaccinated,” a government announcement released Tuesday read. “The red mark makes it easier for the teams to identify households for vaccinations.”

Anti-vaccine advocates, meanwhile, are protesting the vaccination campaign and have compared the government to Nazis, using the hashtag #NaziSamoa on Twitter.


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